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The Bull

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The Story of the Bull O'Reilly Theatre

There have been complaints about the dearth of new Irish work in this year's Dublin Theatre Festival, but they can be put to bed. Already, the festival has had a hilarious new Irish comedy, a scintillating new satire on Celtic Tiger Ireland, a profound reflection on the continuing resonance of Irish mythology, a raw, fast-paced Irish crime thriller, a vastly impressive exercise in avant garde physical theatre, a quirky new Irish musical, and even a new post-Riverdance Irish dancing show.

So what if all of them are contained in a single, dazzling production, Michael Keegan-Dolan's The Story of the Bull? After the triumph of his last show, Giselle, Keegan-Dolan carried a heavy weight of expectation, but he has brushed it off like a bull flicking a fly away with a nonchalant flick of his tail.

For all the immense array of physical and creative resources that have been brought to bear on it, The Story of the Bull feels playful, careless, irresponsible. For all its violence, obscenity and darkness, its driving force is a pure, almost innocent pleasure.

For all its serious encounters with both timeless myth and up-to-the-minute politics, it is gorgeous fun. As with most works that brush against genius, Keegan-Dolan's is the art that conceals art.

The Bull reminds me of one of those revolving glass balls that used to hang from the ceiling at discos, a trashy surface that refracts light in every direction while maintaining its own steady orbit.

The show's relentless energy whirls off into mordantly witty social commentary and visceral prehistoric ritual, into opera and Irish dancing, into horror and beauty, into cabaret, drama and ballet, into pop and baroque, into schlock American movies and Irish rural comedy.
But it holds together with an unfaltering rigour, sweeping through two hours without a moment's lapse.

Keegan-Dolan uses the Táin Bó Cuailnge in the way that James Joyce's uses The Odyssey in Ulysses - as a mythic structure to support an omnivorous take on the contemporary world. Medb and Ailill (beautifully played by Olwen Fouere and Michael Dolan), counting and comparing their possessions, are Dublin millionaires, and her pursuit of the brown bull is a parable of acquisitiveness.

Cúchulain (the Slovakian dancer Vladislav Benito Soltys) is Colm Cullen, a member of a family of cowboy builders.

Medb is an investor in a Lord of the Riverdance-type show called Celtic Bitch, in which Fergus her champion and lover (played by the great Riverdancer Colin Dunne) is the lead dancer.

Aspects of contemporary Ireland, from multiculturalism to organised crime and from the decline of the church to the state of the A&E service in hospitals, are fixed with Keegan-Dolan's satiric eye.

What makes The Bull so special, though, is that it is simultaneously mock-heroic and heroic. The myth is sent up and honoured. Dunne's Celtic Bitch choreography is as astounding as it is uproarious. The violence is both cartoonish and catastrophic.

The panache and flamboyance are rooted in hard discipline and tough skill. Dunne's hard-shoe taps, Angelo Smimmo's astonishing falsetto voice, Daphne Strothmann's and Rachel Poirier's classically-based dance, Robbie Harris's ecstatic percussion, Conor Lovett's wonderfully weird presence as the narrator - these and so many other elements of the show are drawn from the highest levels of accomplishment.

The result is sensationally unsettling, deliriously funny and awesomely savage, the first great piece of theatre about the new hyped-up 21st-century Ireland.

The best joke of all is that the last Irish production to carry this kind of visceral surprise and stunning immediacy was Riverdance.

Fintan O'Toole - Irish Times


Links to more reviews of The Bull:

Time Out

The Sunday Telegraph


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